Thursday, December 6, 2007

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965): or, Death Wears a D-Cup

"Ladies and Gentlemen: welcome TO VIOLENCE!"

So begin's Russ Meyers' 1965 cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a movie camp cinema icon John Waters says is "beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future." While not everyone--okay, maybe not anyone--shares Waters' peculiar cinematic sensibility, there's no denying that Meyers' film possesses a strange, almost alien power, undiminished more than forty years after it was made.

It's a movie that's not only critic-proof, but actively antagonistic to criticism. Like its protagonist/antagonist gang of Amazonian thrill-seekers, it laughs in the face of your rules. It refuses to behave. It's mad, bad, and dangerous to know. It's a threat, and it means business.

In fact, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is almost not a movie--it's a manifesto, a new mythology. Varla, Rosie, and Billie, with their larger-than-life attitudes, their heedless insatiable lust for thrills, and their murderous unconcern for others, would not be out of place among the fickle gods of Olympus, or clashing with the warlike deities of Asgard. These are not women walking across the screen--they are gods and heroes, and this is Meyers' Odyssey.

Come along for the ride.

After an amazing opening narration warning viewers to beware "dangerous packs of women!" we are thrown into a go-go club where rapacious, dog-like men are shouting at the women on stage to "Go-go, baby! Go-go!" The men don't seem to be enjoying themselves particularly--rather, there's a violence in their exhortations, a desperation in their eyes. What is clear here is that for all their bluster and bravado, these men are not nearly as powerful as the women who are driving them to frenzy--women who, as the movie goes on, we will learn are even more powerful and frightening than we can imagine.

Next we find ourselves out in the desert, watching the three girls from the go-go club as they race their powerful sports cars up and down the lonely arid highway. The roar of motors is mixed with their wild laughter, and Meyers establishes the fast-paced, kinetic visual style that has since been imitated and parodied by the likes of Waters and Quentin Tarantino, among others.


The girls are led by Varla (Tura Satana), a terrifying Amazon with straight black hair, a black jumpsuit, and the high black boots of a dominatrix. Her stylized, cat-like eye makeup and stone-cold, contemptuous sneer immediately establish her as a woman you do NOT want to piss off. Her major domo is Rosie (Haji), an exotic beauty with a Mario Brothers-level Italian accent that will have viewers laughing when their mouths aren't agape. Rounding out the group is Billie (Lori Williams), the vivacious blonde who isn't shy about testing Varla's authority.

After a few turns the girls head off to a time track in what looks like a salt lake bed, stopping along the way for Billie to take a fully-clothed swim (the opposite of skinny-dipping, but strangely no less erotic) and to engage in a catfight with Rosie in the sand that magically disappears from their clothing a scene later. Varla watches it all with magisterial contempt, like Genghis Khan suffering the frivolity of his horde. These scenes seem less designed to establish character than to build a world for these characters to inhabit--one of violence, sexuality, and frenzied reasonless activity in the name of "getting your kicks." Oh, what a wonderful world.

If you know anything about Russ Meyer you'll know that he's perhaps most infamous for his obsession with larger-than-life women bearing larger-than-life breasts, and here his infamy is honestly earned. Varla, Rosie, and Billie are nearly always shot from low angles, which makes them seem gigantic, towering over the viewer, and also accentuates the size of their frankly astonishing breasts. In the days before implants the shapes of these women are truly amazing, and the way Meyers shoots them turns their bounteous femininity into something both beautiful and dangerous. You get the feeling that each of them, Varla most especially, could crush any man like a bug under her heel, and their enormous breasts are simply manifestations of that frightening, alluring power. These are not women you desire--these are women you surrender to.

I give up, Varla! Please don't hurt me!
(Okay, maybe just a little...)

It's not long before the Pussycats are joined at the time track by Tommy and Linda, two straight-laced, wholesome, All-American kids who have no idea what danger they've just fallen into. Tommy wants to see if his fine-tuning on his car will result in a faster time around the track, which leads Varla to scoff at someone who thinks he can win anything racing against a stopwatch. His virility called into question, Tommy accepts Varla's challenge for a race around the track, which she wins by fighting the only way she knows how--dirty. Afterwards Tommy ill-advisedly confronts Varla, which leads to an amazing fight scene between him and the Amazon goddess that ends when Varla puts her boot to the vanquished male's back and snaps his spine like a dry stick! Linda faints and the Pussycats dispose of Tommy's body and car and take it on the lam, bringing Linda along for an unclear sinister purpose.

When they stop for gas in the next town, Varla sees a hugely muscled hulk of a young man carrying his crippled father back to their truck (after loading a fifty-gallon drum of gasoline as though it were a sack of pecan shells). She learns from a helpful grease monkey that the old man used to work for the railroad and was crippled in an accident when he tried to save a young woman from being crushed by a train. The muscleman is his son, nicknamed "The Vegetable" because despite his god-like physique he is completely retarded.

The Vegetable just loves the smell of...oh, never mind.

The attendant further informs the girls that the old man is rumored to have lots of money from the railroad settlement, doesn't trust banks, and lives out in the desert miles away from anyone; furthermore, he's such a crotchety old cuss that nobody much likes him in town, and "If he disappeared tomorrow, nobody around here would miss him!" Not one to argue with Fate, Varla quickly determines to go out the old man's ranch, find the money, and get back on the road several thousand dollars richer. Linda will serve as the lynchpin to a convoluted cover story that is neither believable nor important. The important thing is for the girls to get out to the ranch, and that's exactly what they do.

But the family at the ranch are not to be innocent victims. We learn quickly that the Old Man, embittered by his paralysis, is using his musclebound son to exact a perverse vengeance on all females, as presumably the barren, junk-strewn wasteland of the ranch is also strewn with the corpses of unfortunate women. "We're payin' them back," he tells the Vegetable, "Each woman a payment!" The Old Man's older son Kirk (Paul Trinka, who sounds a lot more like Paul Anka) is not involved in the scheme, but only stays on at the ranch out of a feeling of duty toward his father and protectiveness for his massive, mentally challenged younger brother.

So that's the plot--Varla and the Pussycats try to weasel the location of the money out of the Old Man and his sons while Linda tries to escape from her captors' clutches, only to find that the Old Man is nowhere near a savior. There are many great set-pieces in here, from the Pussycats' scheming while showering at an old water tower (!) to Rosie's attempts to seduce The Vegetable (Yet another instance of retard seduction!) to both Varla and Linda throwing themselves at the kind-hearted but weak Kirk, with varying levels of success. But the best of the lot is an absolutely amazing dinner scene that lacks only the cannibalism angle to rival the perverseness of Tobe Hooper's dinner scene in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Truly a weird, wild movie, and a visual feast.

The old man's reflexes were too slow; the girls
already had their buttocks cocked and loaded.

It all barrels forward to an expected confrontation and resolution, but the plot here is much less important than the individual scenes and images that make it up. Meyers frames every scene like the panel of a comic book, with the girls usually in the positions of superheroes--again using the low angles and long-perspective shots to make them seem 10 feet tall and bulletproof. It's hard for me to tell whether Meyers was consciously imitating superhero comics with his camera work, or if comics since have imitated Meyers, but either way, it's gorgeous to look at. In fact, if there hasn't been a graphic novelization of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, I will tell you right now that it's LONG overdue. Hell, just take stills from the movie and add speech bubbles. Bang, you're done.

And I haven't even mentioned what would be inside those speech bubbles! As I said before, Meyers is not telling a grittily realistic dramatic tale here; just as everyone looks larger than life, the dialogue also smacks of superhero comic exposition, with some of the campiest, most quotable lines in movie history. For instance:

Varla: "I never try anything. I just DO IT [...] Wanna try me?"

Tommy (after Varla karate-chops his wrist): "You got a weird sense of humor."
Varla (defiantly): "Try again--I get funnier!"

Grease Monkey (staring at Varla's cleavage): "That's what I believe in--see America first."
Varla: "You won't find it down there, Columbus!"

But I really can't do justice to the music of this movie's dialog in textual form. If you've ever enjoyed the cadence of character speech in a John Waters movie or guffawed through the hilarious Girls Will Be Girls (also highly recommended), you'll recognize immediately what those filmmakers were imitating and parodying. But here it's played straight, and is a hundred times more wonderful. The off-kilter dialog, the comic book visual sensibility, and the smoldering, dangerous, completely perverse sexuality of the whole thing just leaps off the screen like a race car off the starting line, right into your face and heart.


And enough cannot be said about Tura Satana's legend-making turn as Varla. She is not only the most wickedly funny, frightening, and powerful female villain I've ever seen on film--she's easily in the top three cinematic villains of all time regardless of sex. By the end I found myself rooting for her because of her refusal to accept anything less than everything she wants, and for her ruthlessness in pursuing her single-minded goal. Powerful, sexy, pitiless: Meyers was trying to start a new religion, I think, and Satana--Varla--is his goddess.

This movie defies rating. There's so much more I could say about sex-role reversal, gender antagonism, De Sadean notions of vice vs. virtue, and many other topic that could fill a dozen movie books. Suffice to say it's essential, required, absolutely unmissable, and the apotheosis of what a Mad Mad Mad Mad Movie should be. See it at your earliest opportunity, by hook or by crook. And bow down at the feet of your new gods.


Jo said...

I loveeee this movie. I can't stress that enough. The Varla character rules and I use to have this movie poster hanging on me door [just were did it go?].

That whole lady cast are too damn hot. No wonder the Varla character inspired a full magazine of hot ladies. []

Anonymous said...

There was a technicla error in one scene the bumbper is broken, then next scene it is fixed.

Dylan Hodge said...

Your love for this film shows. And you love it the same way I do-obsessively. It's the single most enjoyable film EVER made.

It has anything I could ask for in a piece of entertainment; sexy, agressive women, devilish dialogue, a 'devil may care' attitude towards life. I cant ask for anything else. Sexy women who have a funny way of getting their kicks!

Russ Meyer made an epic film in 1965, and I'm eternally grateful for his vision.

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